After four interesting and exciting flyaway races to start off the season in Australia, Bahrain, China, and all of the late drama in Azerbaijan, the 2018 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship moves back into more normal territory, to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmeló, which is about 30 kilometres north-east of Barcelona, near the east coast of northern Spain, where pre-season testing took place in difficult conditions for the most part, so this will be the first real opportunity for the drivers and teams to test out the re-surfaced track in optimal conditions.
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton (70 points) leads the world championship by just four points over Ferrari driver and fellow four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel (66 points) after a crazy finish to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the incident between the two Red Bull drivers, and the unusual crash into the wall from Romain Grosjean.
Vettel, who was looking good for his 50th win in Formula One, had lost the lead of the race under the safety car to Valtteri Bottas, tried to overtake him after the safety car came in, but couldn’t make the move stick into Turn One on Lap 48, losing a few positions, and then at the start of Lap 49, Bottas picked up a sudden tyre puncture, which forced him out of the race early, which allowed teammate Hamilton to pick up the scraps to do a Steven Bradbury, and claim his first victory of the season.
With that, Hamilton took his podium tally to 120 (63 wins) in his career, and extended his points-scoring streak to a record 29 races, and since joining Mercedes in 2013, has finished 94 of his 102 races with the team inside the points.
Kimi Räikkönen (48 points) recovered from some early misfortune in Azerbaijan to claim an eventful second in Baku in his Ferrari to overtake the unlucky and unfortunate Bottas (40 points) into third in the championship.
Next comes Daniel Ricciardo (37 points), who maintains his fifth position in the world championship in his Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer despite the collision between himself and teammate Max Verstappen, which was adjudicated by the stewards as being a racing incident, but both drivers have been forced by team principal Christian Horner to apologise to the whole team back at Milton Keynes.
However, with Ricciardo regarded as one of the hardest, but cleanest drivers in the world, the attention of scrutiny falls squarely onto the back of Verstappen, who has struggled under the weight of pressure and expectation in 2018 so far.
He has had the spin in Australia, mechanical failure in Bahrain, the collision between him and Vettel in China, and now the collision with his teammate in Azerbaijan, and despite having achieved three race victories, and a further eight podiums in his 64 race career at the age of just 20, including becoming the first (and so far only) teenage to win in Formula One (18 years, and 228 days old), you get the sense that maybe things have come too easily and too soon for Verstappen, and now for the first time in his Formula One career, he is under serious pressure, so it will be intriguing for all of us to see not only how he handles it, but also how Red Bull handles it, given the lack of patience Red Bull, with both Red Bull and Toro Rosso, has shown its drivers in the past.
Fernando Alonso (28 points) is sixth in the championship in his McLaren-Renault after a fourth-straight points finish to start the season in Baku despite some non-terminal damage suffered on the first lap, carving his way through the field to finish an impressive seventh, and is ahead of Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg (22 points), who is seventh in the championship despite his accident on Lap 10, forcing him to retire from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Verstappen (18 points) is eighth in the world championship with Sergio Pérez (15 points) in ninth position in the championship after his wonderful third-place finish in his Force India-Mercedes, while Carlos Sainz Jr. (13 points) completes the top 10 in the championship in his Renault.
As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Ferrari (114 points) have overtaken Mercedes (110 points) to take the lead of the championship, with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (55 points) still in third despite scoring no points in Azerbaijan. They are followed by McLaren-Renault (36 points) and Renault (35 points), who are separated by a single point in their battle for fourth, and are ahead of Force India-Mercedes (16 points), Toro Rosso-Honda (13 points), Haas-Ferrari (11 points), Sauber-Ferrari (10 points), and Williams-Mercedes (four points).
So, who will win the Spanish Grand Prix?
Usually the fastest and best car wins, and if you judge that by the opening four races, it is the Ferrari that looks the strongest, but I sense Mercedes are going to come strong with their car with some timely upgrades, and I also think Red Bull will also be strong.
However, to do well at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, first you must qualify well! 20 out of the 27 winners of the Spanish Grand Prix at this circuit have won from pole position with a further four winning from second-place on the grid. In addition to this, no one has won from lower than fifth on the grid at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Given Red Bull’s failures to match the engine modes of both Ferrari and Mercedes, you sense it is going to be between those two teams, and most likely Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton as to who will win the Spanish Grand Prix!